Art & Voices Matter: Exotic Cancer layers the narrative around sexuality and society

Melbourne-based artist Exotic Cancer creates illustrations which weave together social and political dialogue around the experiences of professional strippers and sex workers.

by Shraddha NairPublished on : May 31, 2021

One of my favourite artists on Instagram, who deserves applause for her cause alone, is Exotic Cancer. Built on a foundation of conceptual intention, the artist architectures a world of characters and symbols which have grown into a recognisable and characteristic lexicon of motifs. Illustrator, artist, entrepreneur, stripper and powerhouse, Exotic Cancer presents a conversation around beauty, gender, sex work and the zeitgeist it grows in contemporary society. Her work is best followed on Instagram, where she showcases the collated pool of her rapid stream of creativity. Some of her work is referential, some of it is specifically contextualised and yet, somehow all of it is relatable. One of her consistently winning series is Honest Tinder Profiles, which can be found in over four parts on her profile. Her work itself, although an empowering and necessary perspective in this dialogue, often finds itself censored by the overtly biased algorithm. This has subsequently become a part of the discourse the artist regards. In this interview she discusses her process, practice and its surrounding concerns.

‘Sugar’ by Exotic Cancer | Exotic Cancer | STIRworld
Sugar by Exotic Cancer Image: Courtesy of Exotic Cancer

1. Please talk about your general practice.

My general process begins with a lot of sketching and concept generation. I often find that my best ideas come from sudden unexpected thoughts when I am being the least proactive with brainstorming. I do believe that a strong concept far outweighs a perfect execution. I prefer to work digitally, I will sketch final ideas on my iPad and then create the line work followed by colouring. Each piece generally takes about four to eight hours. 

2. What are the key concerns that you aspire to address through your work? What prompted you to make this your area of focus?

My work centres around a handful of topics that are really important to me, and often involves unpicking issues that are deeply embedded within our social norms. For as long as I can remember I have expressed myself through drawing and have come to understand the importance of contributing to the conversation. I find it empowering to share the challenges I have faced in life across sexuality, beauty standards, dating, gender roles, exploitation, censorship, and sex work.

‘String’ by Exotic Cancer | Exotic Cancer | STIRworld
String by Exotic Cancer Image: Courtesy of Exotic Cancer

3. How do art interventions aid the process to voice anxieties of the subaltern and question the normative order? Do you think art helps its audience to think and experience about matters that are otherwise considered of lesser importance?

I felt my brain developing more wrinkles just through reading this one! I think of social rules and expectations as a big blend of our individual views, which are often shaped by personal circumstances. Good art (in any form) allows us to reach perspectives beyond our own lived experience and develop a broader empathy/understanding, which is a precursor to credible change. I try to share the stories and situations that are uncomfortable but ultimately grounded in reality and hope that this will encourage people to question their perception/prejudices.

Lust by Exotic Cancer | Exotic Cancer | STIRworld
Lust by Exotic Cancer Image: Courtesy of Exotic Cancer

4. What kind of artistic liberties do you take to reflect (your version of) the reality of the community? 

I enjoy emphasising and embellishing features that are conventionally ‘undesirable’ (body hair, scars, crooked toes, etc.) and feel that through acknowledging imperfections I can partially rebut sexual objectification and ridiculous beauty expectations. I reliably insert dark and grotesque themes into a world of cute pastel colours to emphasise the discord between our constructed fiction and reality.

Exotic Cancer discusses gender and sexuality | Exotic Cancer | STIRworld
Exotic Cancer discusses gender and sexuality Image: Courtesy of Exotic Cancer

5. How do you involve artistic sensitivity to capture the fragility of a community on the periphery? How do you balance the aspects of sensitivity and solidarity?

Through having personally experienced a lot of the stories that are depicted in my art, my concepts are captured through an authentic lens. I believe it's important that creative expression which speaks for an outlying community comes from a genuine place, therefore solidarity should come naturally.

Crying Man by Exotic Cancer | Exotic Cancer | STIRworld
Crying Man by Exotic Cancer Image: Courtesy of Exotic Cancer

6. Lastly, how far have things changed in past years and what do you aspire as an outcome in medium to long term through your work? 

Over the past years I have grown so much as an artist and as an individual. My work is always evolving as a reflection of that and going forwards I hope to experiment with other mediums (more animation, large-scale art etc.).

Little Boys by Exotic Cancer | Exotic Cancer | STIRworld
Little Boys by Exotic Cancer Image: Courtesy of Exotic Cancer

Art & Voices Matter
Co-curated by Rahul Kumar and Dilpreet Bhullar, Art & Voices Matter is a STIR original series of interviews with global creative practitioners who bring to the core the issues of communities that may be seen at the periphery.

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